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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Diane Setterfield's Debut not light reading, but GOOD reading

"Tell me the truth..." So implores a young man in an ill-fitting brown suit of Vida Winter, Britain's best-loved fiction writer. The plea convinces the ailing writer to tell the true story of her birth and childhood, and her tale propels the plot in Diane Setterfield's novel The Thirteenth Tale. When biographer Margaret Lea is summoned to Winter's mansion, she is wary, knowing the famous novelist has given many made-up accounts of her early life. Margaret, a meticulous researcher and writer, will only accept the truth. When the writer and her would-be biographer finally come to terms, the real story begins...

It's a strange tale of twin girls reared by their absent (both physically and mentally) uncle, an aging housekeeper and a gardener. Since the "help" is so busy running Angelfield, the family's rapidly declining estate, they have little time for the girls, who are allowed to roam freely. As a result, the odd girls seem to bond only with each other, communicating exclusively in "twin talk." Although both of the girls are believed to be strange, even slightly retarded, only one (Adeline) shows abnormal tendencies toward violence. When a series of "accidents" happen, Adeline seems to be to blame. The household, however, deem it the work of Angelfield's ghost. Finally, a fire demolishes Angelfield, and Adeline eventually becomes best-selling novelist Vida Winter. Or so it seems. Margaret soon realizes that nothing is as it seems, and she must do some digging of her own. As she works to complete Winter's biography, the odd, frightening tale --the truth of Winter's life--begins to reveal itself. Herself a twin, Margaret finds herself inexplicably drawn into the sordid story, a history which affects her more than anything else she's ever worked on.

The Thirteenth Tale is a first-rate thriller, though one of a different nature. It's more literary than your average bestseller; in fact, it's actually an ode to reading and the power of stories. The story itself is as dark and somber as a Victorian mystery, laden with many layers of secrets and intrigue. Although it may be a little hard to get into, once you start hearing Vida Winter's story, you will not be able to put this book down. It's not light reading, but it's definitely good reading.

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